Digestion Starts Before You Chew

AppleWhen you think about digestion, you probably think of your stomach or intestines working on your food. But digestion starts in your mouth. In fact, digestion starts before you put food into your mouth. All your brain has to do is recognize the smell of food, particularly food you love, and your salivary glands begin to work, causing your mouth to water. That is the first step in digestion.

“Successful digestion calls for breaking down food with your teeth and tongue,” says Dr. Carol Ford from her Phoenix office. “If your teeth are damaged or don’t fit well together, you will be missing an important part of nutrition,” she adds.

Different teeth have different functions in digestion. The front teeth rip and tear food into a manageable mouthful. Think of biting into an apple. Your teeth chomp into the apple and then pull the piece of apple from the fruit, transferring it into your mouth.

“Biting requires healthy incisors that are correctly aligned,” says Dr. Ford. “If they are turned, the bite won’t be effective,” says Dr. Ford, adding, “and putting stress on crooked teeth can weaken and damage them.”

Once the bite of food is in your mouth, your teeth and tongue work together. Grinding is done by the molars, the teeth that line the space along your cheeks. Your tongue pushes and turns the food and your molars grind it into small pieces. WebMd, a website that explains how your body works, describes the next step “More saliva is produced to begin the process of breaking down food into a form your body can absorb and use.”

If your molars don’t match, the grinding isn’t successful. Pieces can be too large to release the nutrients.

“One of the best jobs our teeth can help you do is to chew your food thoroughly,” says Dr. Ford. That includes chewing each bite more than you might think. FoodSmart recommends you chew your food “until the food is pretty much completely gone” to get the most benefit from a meal.

If you don’t chew your food carefully, the pieces you swallow are large. Large chunks ferment as they move through your stomach and produce sulfur and other unpleasant-smelling gasses.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that good tooth alignment can help prevent a bloated feeling and gas,” says Dr. Ford. “It’s good to know that a healthy, sparkling smile is also a help to a well-maintained and nourished body.”


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